How to Grow Sweet Marjoram Herb from Seed
- Scientific Name: Genus Origanum
- Hardiness Zone: Annual, Perennial Zones 9-10
- Days to Harvest: 30-40 days (from date of transplanting)
- Days to Maturity: 70-80 days
- Days to Germination: 4-10
- Seeding Depth: ¼”
- Plant Width: 12-18"
- Plant Height: 12-24"
- Growth Habit: Low-growing and trailing shrub
- Soil Preference: Average, dry, well-drained
- Temp Preference: Warmer, 70-80°F
- Light Preference: Full sun
- Pests/Diseases: Susceptible to rot and mildew in overly moist, heavy, and poorly drained soil. Marjoram does not have too many pests or insects and is generally seeded in the garden to help minimize pests.
- Availability: See All Marjoram Varieties
Nearly identical to oregano in appearance, habit, and taxonomy, sweet marjoram is the more tender and complex member of the oregano genus Origanum. While oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a wild and frost hardy perennial known as “wild marjoram”, culinary marjoram (Origanum majorana) is a far more delicate herb known only to be perennial to warmer and more temperate hardiness zones 9-10. Marjoram is just as often referred to as sweet marjoram to better distinguish its more subtle, citrusy, and floral notes from the more robust “wild marjoram” (oregano). Marjoram is an ideal herb for perennial indoor gardening and requires the same minimal watering and full sun schedule as other Mediterrranean perennials. Although marjoram is naturalized to some warmer regions of the Meditteranean, it is actually a native perennial to the Middle East and Arabian Peninsula, still thriving on the same arid conditions in many home gardens across the country. Sweet marjoram is a full sun herb able to live 3-4 years with minimal watering, regular pruning, and protected indoor overwintering.
How to Grow Marjoram from Seed
- No cold stratification needed
- Press into soil without covering
- Grown nearly identically to oregano
Sweet marjoram is a seed native to the perennially warm Middle East and Arabian Peninsula and does not require any type of wintering or cold stratification to boost germination. Whether fruit, vegetable, or ornamental, many seed types require an average 2-6 week period of cold stratification before sowing to replicate the natural frost they would have experienced in nature. Seeds such as lavender, milkweed, and viola depend on a winter freeze, whether artificial or natural, to improve germination rate and time. Similar to its Origanum relative oregano, sweet marjoram seeds are naturalized to warmer regions of the world and do not require any type of refrigerated stratification.
Sweet marjoram is a full sun herb best started indoors in early spring since it's not frost tolerant like some other perennial herbs. For earliest starts, begin marjoram seeds indoors 8-10 weeks prior to the final spring frost. Like oregano seeds, marjoram seeds are very small and can be very challenging to handle. Lightly press into soil without covering about 5-6 seeds per cell (or square inch) and mist heavily before placing in full sun. A far more tender perennial than oregano, marjoram seeds are known to germinate about a week slower too, developing cotyledons within 10-21 days. Thin out your best marjoram starts and transplant once seedlings have reached about 6” tall and established true leaves. Although marjoram thrives in a full sun garden bed, it is best grown in a moveable container or pot so that it may be brought indoors each winter and live perennially for up to 3-4 years.
Whether growing sweet marjoram (Origanum vulgare), pot marjoram (Origanum onites), or even “wild marjoram” (Origanum vulgare), be sure to provide marjoram with the loose, shallow, dry, and well-drained soil from which it’s naturalized. Marjoram is largely native to the perennially warm, sunny, and arid Middle East and will thrive in any garden able to offer similar growing conditions. Sweet marjoram seeds grow so readily that they are known to flourish without any fertilizing throughout the season. Like most culinary herbs, heavy liquid fertilizing is generally not encouraged since it can often sacrifice flavor, aroma, and tenderness for robust vegetatibe growth. Dry fertilizers, composts, and worm castings can be mixed in with the potting soil when first transplanting young seedlings to the garden bed, planter box, or container. Herbs such as marjoram, oregano, thyme, and sage are ideal for pots and containers of any kind because they guarantee these perennial herbs the consistently dried and well-drained soil they demand.
- Less is more
- Drought tolerant
- Allow soil to dry between waterings
As a native to the larger expanses of the Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, and Western Asia, sweet marjoram still prefers thoroughly dried and well-drained soils in almost any garden. Just like oregano and thyme, one of the greatest threats to culinary marjoram is oversaturation caused by overwatering and poorly-drained soils, which is directly responsible for its susceptibility to root rot and mold. Whenever growing any vegetable, herb, or flower, always consider its origin and naturalization to best understand its soil, watering, and temperature needs. Allow the top 2” of soil to fully dehydrate before watering again.
Is Marjoram A Perennial?
No, marjoram is not a perennial in the way that we may think of lavender, rosemary, or oregano as being able to go dormant through a freezing winter. Although closely related to frost-hardy oregano (Origanum vulgare), sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) and pot marjoram (Origanum onites) are both tender herbs only known to grow perennially outdoors in warmer 9-10 hardiness zones. This is why oregano is often referred to as “wild marjoram” because it withstands more harsh conditions than sweet marjoram. Although marjoram does not naturally overwinter outdoors, it can be brought indoors during the early fall to continue its perennial growth in a more temperate, protected environment. Sweet marjoram plants brought indoors to overwinter will have the best chance to fulfill their 3-4 year life expectancy.
Marjoram in Winter
- Can only overwinter indoors
- Neither cold nor frost tolerant
- Outdoor perennial to zones 9-10
Only gardeners in the warmest regions in the country may be able to overwinter sweet marjoram outside. Perennial marjoram is best if cultivated in a container or pot so that it may be conveniently moved at any time for optimal sunlight, temperature, or moisture control. Like many home cooks, you might even come to find that tender sweet marjoram is the premier windowsill herb because of its reluctance to frost. Frost and freezing winters cause perennial herbs such as oregano, thyme, and lavender to develop thick and protective woody stems which, although preserving the plant, also compromises aroma and flavor.
Growing Marjoram in Pots
Sweet marjoram is an ideal herb for container gardening because, almost more than any other herb, marjoram benefits from the convenient portability of a pot. Since marjoram has absolutely zero tolerance to neither cold nor frost, marjoram is widely recommended to be cultivated in a pot so that it may always be relocated throughout the seasons to best capture optimal heat and sunlight. Marjoram grown in pots have a much better chance to actualize its 3-4 lifespan than seedlings transplanted to the garden bed or sown directly. Similar to other semi-arid perennials, marjoram also thrives from the reliable and thorough drainage provided by container gardening. As a member of oregano genus Origanum, sweet marjoram requires the same average, dry, rocky, and well-drained soil without any heavy additional fertilizer. When transplanting marjoram to a pot, planter, or container, prepare the soil with a dry compost such as worm castings to supplement roots.
How to Care for Marjoram Plants in Pots
- Naturally thrives in pots
- Overwatering is the greatest threat
- Allows marjoram to overwinter indoors
If growing sweet marjoram in pots or containers, don’t miss our sections Marjoram Soil and Watering Marjoram. As with most semi-arid perennials, overwatering is usually the greatest threat and potting soil should always be allowed to thoroughly dehydrate between waterings. Soil in pots will naturally dry much quicker than in the garden bed, providing the loose and dry soil to which marjoram is native. Since pots are light and moveable, be sure to take advantage of the convenience by keeping marjoram in maximum sunlight by moving it around the yard or indoors throughout the day, season, and year. If having trouble with oversaturation, try a terra cotta pot for optimal drainage.
Growing Marjoram Indoors
Whether cultivating sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) or pot marjoram (Origanum onites), marjoram is one of the most popular perennial herbs to cultivate indoors because of its preference for warmer climates. Though marjoram has been found naturalized in the Mediterranean, it is more accurately native to the Middle East and Western Asia where it rarely experiences any type of frost, even in the coldest months. Sweet marjoram kept indoors can be placed outdoors during the summer months for maximum lighting and brought back in as soon as the fall weather dips below 50°F. Plants may also be kept indoors year round, provided that they receive a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day. The best tip for growing marjoram indoors is to cultivate it in a light and convenient pot so that it can be moved around the house and yard to track optimal conditions. Although heavy and decorative ceramic pots always look good in the house, they’re not the most catering to marjoram, which requires a little extra attention and mobility than other perennial herbs.
Sweet marjoram is pruned exactly like its shrubby relative, oregano, and any experience with pruning marjoram should provide more than enough confidence and skills to prune even the most tender annuals such as basil, cilantro, or parsley. Other than proper watering and sunlight, pruning is the most direct way to ensure perennials are their healthiest and able to fully realize their lifespan. Marjoram is much easier to prune than other perennial herbs like rosemary, sage, or thyme because, unlike the other frost tolerant herbs, marjoram will not produce overly thick and woody stems since it does not go dormant in winter. While most gardeners prune their herbs back in early spring after a long winter outdoors, sweet marjoram can be pruned nearly any time of year since it will be brought indoors to winter. Since marjoram doesn’t require the same type of aggressive pruning as with more invasive herbs, most home gardeners will also prune and harvest at the same time to make more efficient use of their time and cuttings.
When to Prune Marjoram
- Throughout season as needed
- Same time as when harvesting
- When it starts to outgrow container
Sweet marjoram does not have the same strict pruning schedule because it is not traditionally left outdoors to overwinter. Gardeners in colder and more northern regions understand that perennial herbs are best if pruned back in late winter to early spring, promoting new and healthy growth. Herbs like mint, thyme, and oregano can be pruned down nearly to the base in early spring and still rebound for vigorous perennial growth. However, since marjoram can only overwinter outdoors in hardiness zones 9-10, most home gardeners will not experience having to prune back too much vegetation or woodiness from their plants other than the maturing stems that develop naturally from several years of indoor perennial growth. Marjoram can be pruned throughout the season as necessary to keep plants bushy and healthy or, as most gardeners have learned, is easiest to harvest, prune, and propagate all at once.
How to Prune Marjoram
- Prune about ⅓ of green growth
- No more than 20% of total plant
- Do not prune down to bare stems
Marjoram is pruned exactly like oregano or any other perennial herb. Although sweet marjoram does not share the same woody stems as oregano, it is still recommended to use scissors or gardening shears when pruning back rather than manually “pinching” herbs such as with basil and mint. Generally, any experience pruning any other perennial herb should provide enough foundation to prune marjoram and visa versa. Since marjoram will not overwinter outdoors, both pruning and harvesting cuts will be more forgiving as there are softer, more tender stems to snip from.
Although sweet marjoram may have different growing conditions than other herbaceous perennial herbs, it propagates from mature cuttings just as easily and in only a few weeks. Perennial herbs such as sage, lavender, and marjoram are widely known to grow effortlessly from cuttings in just weeks as opposed to the several months required to germinate, nurture, and transplant herbs propagated from seed. Growing starts from established plants (cloning) will no doubt seem intimidating to the novice but, when done correctly even once, the process will become easier since the general steps are the same for just about any plant that is able to be cloned. Whether you practice on basil or marjoram, propagating from cuttings is one of the quickest ways to get you feeling like a pro in your own backyard.
How to Grow Marjoram from Cuttings
1. Depending on size and age of the plant, an ideal selection for marjoram propagation is to cut the top 5-8” of a fresh young stem with plenty of soft green and no signs of flowering.
2. Take the clipping and strip about half of it bare of its leaves. Most soft cuttings should be about 5-8” long, stripping exactly half of the sprig for rooting.
3. The final step of propagating sage from cuttings allows for two different methods to root the new cutting. The simplest method simply has you plant the bare end of the cutting into soil, allowing the remaining leaves to collect light for establishing new root structure. However, some gardeners prefer to root marjoram cuttings in a glass of water by saturating the stem up to its leaves. Once roots are established in 3-4 weeks, the marjoram clone can be safely transplanted to soil.
4. If propagating marjoram hydroponically in a glass of water, be sure to change out for fresh water and a new glass every 5-7 days to avoid mold. If propagating marjoram cuttings directly into soil, rooting hormones and gels are popularly used to incite growth, but are not required.
Marjoram Companion Planting
Marjoram can be found in the garden growing beside other Mediterranean classics such as oregano, sage, and lavender because they share similar growth requirements, making it easy to tend to them all at once. While many of these bright and aromatic herbs are planted in the garden bed for culinary use and harvesting, they are also traditionally believed to help minimize some of the pesky, bothersome insects during the season. Terpenes and chemical compounds such as borneol, camphor, and pinene are responsible for marjoram’s unmistakable aromas are the same chemicals believed to also function as a natural pesticide, which are extracted and commercially sold as organic insecticide. Sometimes grown to help minimize pests, marjoram is also one of the most pollinator-friendly herbs when allowed to flower, providing a season’s worth of blooms to beneficial insects and pollinators. Herbs are generally harvested and pruned before flowering and, because of such rarity, are known to attract a greater diversity of pollinators than many annual ornamental favorites.
Similar to nasturtium and borage, marjoram grows very edible and delicious flowers that serve as both a garnish and culinary delight. While marjoram leaves are far more robust in flavor, the much more delicate blooms boast a far more subtle and sophisticated iteration of the plant. Marjoram is not traditionally considered a fresh cut flower in the floral industry despite producing somewhat similar blooms to statice or Forget-Me-Nots. Bunches of ¼” soft lavender blooms, marjoram has a nearly identical blooming habit to oregano and makes an ideal addition to any garden bed or walkway. Although herbal plants are not popularly permitted to flower since it will cause plants to become woodier and less palatable, flowering herbs are guaranteed to attract all sorts of essential insects and pollinators to the summer garden.
Herbs are always best harvested before the plant has produced flowers and gone to seed. Even with leafy greens and garden lettuce, delicious and tender vegetative greens become far too bitter and fibrous for culinary use once the plant has flowered. Individual stems and sprigs may still be harvested as long as those particular stems are without any flowering. Marjoram can be harvested as early as 50-60 days from transplanting, guaranteeing the youngest, most flavorful, and tender leaves possible. Harvesting from established plants will require a more scrupulous eye to differentiate the woodier, more mature sprigs from the new and aromatic growth preferred for culinary use. Unlike garden fruits and vegetables which have specific harvesting windows, herbs generally do not have any type of limiting harvest dates and are free for harvest as long as the plant hasn’t flowered. Harvesting and pruning often will keep marjoram from expending all of its energy on seed and flower production as opposed to flavorful leaves.
When to Harvest Marjoram
- Year-round as needed
- Spring and summer in cool regions
- Prune, propagate, and harvest together
How to Harvest Marjoram
- Use scissors or shears, never pull
- Harvest the top ⅓ of non-flowering stems
- Same as pruning, cut above the woody base
As mentioned, harvesting and pruning herbs are almost always done in tandem because they rely on the same exact cuttings from the same tender growth. Whether pruning or harvesting, always choose cuttings from the more green and tender stems and never from the tough, woody base where growth has ceased. If only needing a sparing amount, then leaves may be individually clipped from the most tender stems. If intending to dry, choose the size and length of clippings based on the dehydrating method you choose.
Although not as widely popular as drying lavender, sage, or rosemary, dried marjoram offers the same savory notes and is an ideal addition to blend with the similarly flavored oregano. Marjoram requires no additional steps and because it is more tender than other perennial herbs, marjoram is arguably much easier to dry as well. As mentioned earlier, marjoram does not thrive as an overwintering perennial herb which actually helps to improve and maintain fragrance and culinary value, perfect for anyone looking to dehydrate their herbs. As a member of the oregano genus Origanum, sweet marjoram is grown for its delicate subtlety than the more robust, yet tenacious, oregano herb. Sweet marjoram is easily dried using one of three popular dehydrating methods and can be quickly dried alone or in tandem with an entire season of herbs. Knowing how to hang dry even just one herb is more than enough experience to dry your own sweet marjoram today!
How to Dry Marjoram
Hang Dry: Cut about 5-8” of newest growth per stem and then bundle together. While larger plants will yield longer stems, still harvest just the tips for best flavor. Hang the bundle upside down in a dry, cool, and well-ventilated area for 7-14 days until soft leaves are brittle and no longer pliable.
Oven Dry: Marjoram can be easily placed on a baking sheet and dehydrated in a convection oven at 160°F for 20-30 minutes or until leaves and stems are brittle. Do not actually cook the marjoram with the oven running but rather, preheat the oven to reach 160°F and turn it off once it does. Now that internal temp of the oven is 160°F, place the baking sheet of marjoram into the oven for 20-30 minutes. After the time, fully open the oven to cool while leaving the marjoram in for another 30 minutes or so.
Food Dehydrator: Herbs, fruits, and flowers are ideal for countertop food dehydrators for reliable and thorough drying. Food dehydrators feature step-by-step instructions for herbs and is the preferred method for many cooks and home gardeners. Many herbs such as oregano should only take about 2 hours in any household food dehydrator.
Types of Marjoram
Marjoram is often one the more difficult herbs to correctly put a label on because it is actually a member of the oregano family Origanum and often thought to be somewhat interchangeable between the two. However, because there are only three known varieties of marjoram, the task becomes much easier to differentiate between them. The defining feature that separates marjoram from oregano is that marjoram is far more tender to frost and cold, unable to go dormant for a season of winter like oregano. In fact, one of the three varieties of marjoram known as ‘wild marjoram’ should be more accurately known as common oregano because of its ability to thrive in the wild. If intending for culinary use, be sure to only grow sweet marjoram, sometimes known as knotted marjoram, helping to ensure you the most tender, flavorful, and fragrant harvests possible. While Origanum is home to more than 50 cultivars of oregano both culinary and ornamental, only two of those varieties can truly be considered marjoram.
Knotted Marjoram: (Origanum majorana) - Perhaps more popularly known as sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram earns the name because of how the flowers are produced from tightly knotted buds. The name sweet marjoram is commonly used because it accurately differentiates tender culinary marjoram from “wild marjoram” which is actually true oregano.
Pot Marjoram: (Origanum onites) - Sometimes known as Greek marjoram or Cretan marjoram, pot marjoram is a select species of Origanum naturalized exclusively to the Mediterranean regions of Greece, Italy, and much of Turkey. While true marjoram is actually native to the Middle East and Western Asia, it is pot marjoram that allows marjoram to be considered a Mediterranean perennial.
Wild Marjoram: (Origanum vulgare) - Not actually marjoram at all, the term “wild marjoram” is used to describe common oregano. While true oregano is frost and winter hardy, found thriving in nature, sweet marjoram is far more tender and unable to withstand such rugged conditions. Although more frost hardy, the flavor of wild marjoram (oregano) is not nearly as subtle or elegant as sweet or pot marjoram.
Benefits of Marjoram
Like many fragrant herbs, marjoram plant has been used as a “cure-all” in ancient medicinal traditions across many cultures for millenia believing to help alleviate anything from nerves, coughs, headaches, paralysis, muscle spasms, and poor sleep. While marjoram has taken a backseat to some more contemporary approaches, marjoram is still an essential herb especially when kept out in the garden. Although modern science has relegated marjoram to more of a homeopathic remedy, science has also proven that marjoram contains three separate chemicals each responsible for robust fragrance and pest control. Borneol, camphor, and pinene are terpenes which are commercially extracted to help create insecticides and pest control. Each herb in the garden boasts their own fragrant chemical terpenes and, when grown in tandem, create a very fragrant, yet inhospitable, environment for smaller garden pests.
Brewed sweet marjoram tea offers all the same relaxing and herbal benefits while making the marjoram leaf more palatable and digestible. Dried marjoram leaves pair well with sage, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile and always goes great with a touch of honey. Be sure to properly strain marjoram leaves to keep tea from becoming bitter and fibrous.
How to Make Marjoram Tea
1. Using any type of tea infuser, satchel, or tea bag, add about 4 tsp of dried marjoram to every 8 oz of boiled water.
2. Allow marjoram to steep for about ten minutes. Done!
Additional Information on Marjoram Herb
- Marjoram Wikipedia Page
- Read the Best Practices for Planning Your Herb Garden!
- Learn About Hardiness Zones
Explore these Marjoram Herb Seed Varieties: